Thursday, February 5, 2015
Valentine’s Day candy is disappointing because it’s usually about the packaging. So, I was pleased at Whole Foods when I spotted two limited edition varieties from Theo Chocolate for Valentine’s Day ... and on sale at 2 bars for $3 (they’re usually $4 each). I’ve often said that a fine chocolate bar is better than a greeting card and in this case, far cheaper. There’s even a “To” and “From” spot on the back of the bar. (But the ideal touch would be to include at least a personalized post it note.)
It’s called Theo Red Hot Cinnamon Love Crunch. The description on the back said: The red-hot crunch of cinnamon brittle in smooth, rich, 70% dark chocolate - spicy and sweet.
Sounds amazing: for $1.50, I was getting a unique bar that combined cinnamon and chocolate, that was also fair trade certified, non-GMO, organic, vegan, soy-free, Kosher and made here in the USA. Goodbye, ordinary candy in a heart shaped package! (The other bar I picked up was the milk chocolate My Cherry Baby.)
On the tongue at first it’s a little tangy. The melt is a little grainy, I wasn’t sure if it was the crunchy bits or not at first, but it seems that some of it is spices. It became apparent very quickly that this was not just a cinnamon and chocolate bar. My bad for not reading the label fully.
Here’s the deal: the package is pink, the printing on the back is brown. In full light and my reading glasses, I can read it. But not in the dim light and glassesless state I was in at Whole Foods. (My usual trick when I don’t have my glasses and the print is tiny is to take a photo with my phone and then blow it up, but I read the description and thought that was the extent of the flavors.)
The ingredients of interest here are (after you get through the chocolate stuff): cayenne, cinnamon leaf essential oil, black pepper essential oil, nutmeg essential oil and clove essential oil.
I actually like spicy things (curry, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger), but the one I can’t do is red pepper. Capsascin is one of those compounds that people experience differently because of genetic differences. For me, cayenne isn’t fun, there’s a lot of heat that doesn’t seem to dissipate and in higher concentrations it just induces nausea. So, I avoid anything other than mild chili items. While there’s a proliferation of chili peppers in confection, and for the most part they’re tolerable, though not always enjoyable for me.
This was freakishly hot for me. I got the different sensations from the various spices, I could actually discern the difference between the black pepper and the cayenne and the cinnamon. (Clove actually has a bit of a numbing effect.) The cinnamon really only came in at the beginning as a scent. The tangy bite of the chocolate did help to mellow the pepper at first, but once it hit my throat, the one-two punch of black and red pepper was too much. The little brittle crunch pieces were supposed to be cinnamon, and maybe some of them were, but other larger bits seemed flavorless.
I tried this bar twice, eating only one of the large squares each time in small bits. The warming effect from the spices lasts a long time, well over a half an hour. Though it didn’t upset my stomach, it really didn’t please me either and I don’t plan on finishing the bar.
If your loved one is partial to the extremely spicy side of things, this might be a good option, especially if you’re looking for something without dairy or soy (the Lindt dark chocolate products contain milk and soy ingredients). The bar is made in a facility that also handles peanuts, wheat, milk, eggs and soy.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I mostly chew gum made with sugar, not because I necessarily want sugar in my gum, but because it’s so hard to find sugar free gum that’s not made with artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. It’s very rare to find a gum like the PUR line that is sugarless but also made only with xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol. Xylitol has been around for years and is often used in sugar free mints and gums, though usually in combination with artificial sweeteners. It has a light ans sweet note to it, but like most sugar alcohols, it also has an odd cooling effect on the tongue (which is usually a desirable feature for mints).
The PUR Gum is is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. I’ve tried the other flavors that were introduced when the gum line launched about three years ago: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. I liked them quite a bit, though they’re not easy to find.
The pieces are simple chiclets, rounded rectangular pieces, a little rustic and uneven, measuring about 3/4 of an inch long and about 1/3 of an inch wide. A serving, for me, is two pieces. (With actual Chiclets it’s usually 3 pieces at a time.)
The chew is very soft at first, with a very cool note on top and a strong sweetness before the other flavors kick in. The sweetness is not the same as sugar, it’s less round, cool on the tongue and rather slippery.
The flavor is very odd. At first it was a bit on the wintergreen side, which some people find medicinal ... or repulsive. There are other notes to it, a little hint of eucalyptus and then another more balsam note, it reminded me of mastic, which is a resin that’s also used a chewing gum in the Mediterranean. (If you’ve never had mastic, it’s also similar in its flavor profile to tea tree oil, which is not meant to be eaten but is found in many natural personal care products.)
The wintergreen notes dissolve away and all that seemed to be left was that sort of resin note with a hint of something like jasmine tea. It’s pleasant, at least for me and did definitely freshen my mouth after eating some curry for lunch.
Cinnamon is predictable and comforting. It’s woodsy and a little on the clove side of spicy, but has a wonderful warming hotness to it. The intense and rounded flavors dissipate pretty quickly, but the lingering flavor is just sweet and with the lightest tough of cinnamon.
There’s no weird bitter note, either, which I think is often caused by artificial colors. There are no colors here, so it’s all about the gum flavor. The xylitol sweetness lasts for a while, I’d say the pieces are satisfying for about 15 minutes. After I tossed the gum, I still had that lingering warmth of the cinnamon for at least a half an hour. It definitely cut through coffee breath.
I’d probably still stick with the Peppermint (from the original review) for a gum to keep in my desk, but for travel, I think I would go with the Coolmint because I really felt like chewing the pieces longer than the other flavors. It’s a little expensive and the packaging takes up a lot of space for such a small amount of gum. (I might like it if the blister pack was scored so I could just tear off a few of them to keep them in my little case that I take on airplanes.)
The gum is not easy to find, and not cheap. I’ve seen it at natural food stores and grocers, such as Sprouts and Erewhon.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The dill pickle is a favorite flavor in the United States. It goes beyond the brined cucumber and has made its way into potato chips, vodka, peanuts, and even toothpaste. It’s a small wonder we haven’t seen more pickled candies.
The folks at Barrels of Yum have created a unique array of hard candies shaped like barrels, but I thought I’d start with their Dilly Dally Candy since it’s their unique offering.
Their barrel shaped dill pickle pieces bring the flavors of dill, vinegar, salt, garlic and tarragon to hard candy.
They’re bright green, like that weird paste I get from the Indian restaurant that I can’t eat because it’s so green. I’m not a pickle adverse person, as a kid I was a huge fan both of the store bought versions and the kind my grandmother made with the gherkins she grew in her own yard.
The first flavor is sweetness, like a sweet pickle, which I actually don’t care for. But after there’s a strong and pleasant herbal dill note along with a weird sort of garlic flavor. The tartness that emulates vinegar comes in slowly. Overall, it’s a good likeness of a pickle in dissolvable form. I would have liked a little less sweet, which I understand is hard to do with candy, but perhaps a dash of salt. Mostly, it lacks the texture, that crunch, the coldness from the fridge that are elements I enjoy in my pickle. My mouth never quite watered during the experience like it does with some good, refrigerator-cold, fresh pickles.
As a novelty, especially if you’re theming a party, these are definitely unique, but not something I’d eat every day.
It really is time that hard candy got some upgrades, the new variety was created with David Klein, the fellow of brought us the idea of really great tasting jelly beans with the Jelly Belly.
The variety contains eight different flavors, though oddly enough, not the classic barrel candy root beer. They include: blueberry crumble, peach cobbler, apple pie, chai tea, sour watermelon, hot cinnamon, orange cream, and granny smith green apple.
They’re kosher and made in the USA, unlike a lot of hard candies these days. They’re for sale on Amazon, but at $5.99 they’re a little steep. They’re made with a combination of natural and artificial flavors. The colors are bright, though it’s a little hard to tell some of the apart at first glance, as the peach and orange are similar as are the two browns.
Apple Pie is the light brown color. It’s very apple, with a lot of tartness to it and a good flavor balance that has some cinnamon and something like graham or that emulates crust very well. The apple flavor is good enough that it almost taste like they didn’t peel the apples.
Granny Smith Green Apple is just a little darker in color than the Dilly Dally, not that they’re included in the same package. It starts out rather sedate but then develops. It’s not Jolly Rancher apple, this is a lot more full bodied with more of the apple juice flavors than that artificial note that many American apple candies have. If you gave this to me without saying where it came from, I would guess it was Japanese, as they have a much better approximation of true apple flavor in candy than we do.
Blueberry Crumble is over-blued ... it made my tongue blue and as an adult, it’s not really a feeling I care for. The flavor is good, a well rounded sweetness with a light tart bite of boiled berries with a sort of vanilla top note. It didn’t quite differentiate itself as actual blueberry, more of a generic berry flavor.
Orange Cream is the lightest orange didn’t really make any sense to me conceptually but it was well executed. Two of my favorite qualities of citrus are the acidic bite and the zesty balsamic note. Neither of those show up in this piece, as it’s all about the soft orange flavor without the zing of the peel or the juice. So what’s left? It’s like a creamsicle, sweet and mild with a very good creamy mouthfeel, though there’s absolutely no dairy in it.
Peach Cobbler is a medium orange color and rather weak. It was tangy but didn’t have that dough element like the crumble did. It was just odd, not peachy. I thought this was a miss.
Sour Watermelon was hot pink and definitely reminded me of Jolly Rancher. The flavor was very sweet at first, like a ripe but uninteresting watermelon, but then the sour pops up as you get further in. It’s not puckery, but has a believable quality to it.
Chai Tea is warm with immediate cinnamon notes. The other spices are quite mild and comforting, perhaps a little nutmeg and ginger. It’s not as strong as I could have liked, but the flavor is continuous instead of getting weak as the candy dissolves.
Hot Cinnamon was saved for last, in case it burned me out. It starts out with a good mix of the powdery woody flavor but then goes right into the searing heat of the cinnamon oil. It reminded me of Atomic Fireballs, except there’s no layering to grant relief after a few minutes. I had a little metallic hit from the artificial colors, I would have preferred colorings on these that didn’t interfere with the intense flavors.
Overall, the barrels fill a niche for interesting flavors in hard candy. I found the pieces just slightly large for my preference. Though the barrel shape is fun, I do prefer a disk as I think that fits better in the mouth. This particular flavor assortment didn’t fit my tastes perfectly, only about half are flavors I’d pick out of the mix. I am looking forward to what they do with Root Beer, as I would love to find a really intense, spicy root beer hard candy.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Monday, December 23, 2013
A few years back I reviewed one of the classic candies that Brach’s has been making for years, their Peppermint Holiday Nougat. The Brach’s style of nougat is made with egg whites, just like the European recipes have been for hundreds of years. This version is more of a chew, kind of a hybrid between a taffy and a fluffy honey-sweetened nougat from France, Italy or Spain.
The fun part about the Brach’s Christmas Nougats Mix is that they come in three flavors: Cinnamon, Peppermint & Wintergreen.
These kinds of nougats are assembled, truly, by hand. Large logs of nougat are colored and flavored, then stacked together to form the image inside which creates a much larger log. That is then placed on a machine that pulls it into a smaller cord and then cuts the pieces.
I’ve reviewed the Peppermint version before, and find the same opinion to hold true today. It’s a soft chew, very smooth with a nice pop of peppermint. The nougat makes it a short chew, meaning it’s not gummy and dissolves pretty quickly without much grain. It has a bit of salt, which mellows out the bulk of the sugar.
The Cinnamon version has a pink background. The cinnamon scent is quite strong and this chew was very soft. It’s a sizzling cinnamon, I was surprised at its strength, there was a bit of heat. It’s a unique sort of candy, so I appreciate that it’s attractive and well made.
The Wintergreen version has a light green background. As much as I’m a fan of the flavor, I can’t say that this is the best use of it. Like the cinnamon, this is very strong. And like cinnamon, a lot of wintergreen at once can give a sort of warming “sports rub” sort of feeling. Wintergreen doesn’t go well with many other flavors, it’s not like this combines well with chocolate or wine, if you were snacking.
These make an attractive bowl of candy, though I think in the future I’d stick with either the Peppermint or the Cinnamon. Wintergreen is just to strange for a candy assortment for Christmas, but certainly something to keep in mind for that person on your list that does have a predilection for the stuff.
Note: the packaging on this predates the Ferrara and Farley’s & Sathers merger (the copyright said 2012) and Brach’s is planning on changing their packaging design and branding again next year. This bag was made in Mexico.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Sometime about a year ago I picked up some Root Beer Puffs, which were like buttermints but flavored like the soda. A few weeks later I got a note from a company called Red Bird Brand that makes candy puffs in a huge variety of flavors. It took me quite a while to find them, but I did pick up Soft Assorted Puffs at the 99 Cent Only Store that includes 15 different flavors. (Though perhaps not always in the same bag.)
The flavor variety is, well, extraordinary: Peppermint, Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple, Wintergreen, Strawberry, Orange, Grape, Peach, Blueberry, Butterscotch, Watermelon, Cream Penny, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit. There’s a menu guide on the back that shows the key for the combination of colors and stripes. There are about 25 candies in the bag, but the flavors were not distributed evenly.
One of the differences between this style of Puffs and the traditional Buttermint of After Dinner Mint is the size. These are quite large, at about 1 inch across and all of them are individually wrapped. (No more candy dish with the stuck together.)
Cherry was bold and easy to spot. It’s a flavor that’s both heavily scented and with a light tartness to it. It was smooth and had a good melt, but overall, it’s not usually my favorite though at least this didn’t have a lot of red coloring in it.
The flavors not in my bag: Peppermint, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit and Orange.
For the most part I didn’t like the fruity flavors. The others like butterscotch and wintergreen were more to my liking, even the unflavored Cream Penny were pleasant.
The puffs themselves are quite nice, I liked them more than the variety package. There’s a floral, sort of honey note to them. But they’re also quite cinnamony. I wouldn’t call them hot though, it was a nice heat but they never approached anything like the fire of an Atomic Fireball.
The cinnamon smell is strong, even when they’re in the package, so I had to keep them separated from other candies.
The package for the Assorted Puffs said it was Gluten Free, they’re also Kosher Pareve and appear to be vegan ingredients.
It was strange that I didn’t get the classic Peppermint in the Assorted mix, which is what Red Bird Brand is known for. Overall, the texture was good, they softened up nicely. The package mentions that they’re rather hard when they’re first made, but if you prefer a softer puff, to open the package and wait ... it was true. After a couple of months, mine reached the melt in your mouth texture that I was expecting.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.